Since the arrival of Christianity on Japanese soil under the auspices of St. Francis Xavier and the Jesuits in the 16th century, Japan’s history with the Faith has been far from perfect, given its role in the brutal persecution of multiple Christians over a period of two centuries and the controversies it has fueled with missions. Only during the Meiji era did the persecutions finally come to an end in 1873; as time passed, the Japanese entertainment industry, anime in particular, has begun to develop a peculiar interest in Christianity, incorporating its symbols and externals into their media. Unfortunately, when you combine a nation whose knowledge of the Faith is limited, you will often end up with some pretty whack depictions of Christianity; a theme which the fanon website TV Tropes has likened as Anime Catholicism. One of the examples of this is the 2005 show Trinity Blood.
Trinity Blood started off as a series of light novels written by the now-deceased author Sunao Yoshida, who debuted them from 2001 on the magazine The Sneaker, which also hosted the other series The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya. It would be followed by a prequel series known as Canon Summa Theologica, not to be confused with the great theology manual written by esteemed Doctor of the Church St. Thomas Aquinas, as well as a manga spinoff which debuted months before Yoshida’s death in 2004. The anime itself would follow a year later, produced by the studio Gonzo. This was one series that I had previous implicit knowledge about prior to having actually watched it, but it would be four years before I could finally muster up enough time to watch it. Surprisingly, I finished this series within the span of two weekends; making this series the first in which I completed in such a span of time.
Set in the midst of the 31st century, the series focuses on an ongoing war between two warring sects: on one side, are a vampiric race known as the Methuselahs, who have taken up residence on Earth following a botched mission to colonize Mars; and on the other hand, regular humans, who are led under the auspices of a militaristic version of what claims to be the Roman Catholic Church. (NOTE: I seriously digress on this claim, for reasons that this church has obviously defected from Catholic tradition with its acceptance of female and vampire clergy in its ranks. For this reason I will refer to the institution as the “Unglican Church of Rome” from hereon) At the time this series begins, a state of political tension exists with the two, and relations between the vampires and the human race are hanging on the tightropes of war.
The story centers around an Unglican cleric, Fr. Abel Nightroad, who works as some sort of a secret agent for the Unglican authorities in Rome. He is a member of an offshoot of the Methuselahs known as the Crusniks, who sustain themselves by feeding on the blood of other vampires; yet, he is devoted to his faith and lives by a strict vow of non-violence. He is assisted by his teammate Fr. Tres Iqus, a robotic servant who somehow has the capacity to be ordained as a cleric; Esther Blanchett, a Hungarian nun who he rescues from the clutches of a resistance group known as the Rosenkreuz, and Ion Fortuna, a member of the Methuselahs. The series follows Fr. Nightroad and his aforementioned companions as they travel across the globe, as they work for the advance of the Unglican Church of Rome’s benefit; taking down Methuselah rebels, wading through the political intrigue surrounding the two groups, and trying to maintain peace and order amidst the series’ chaotic, dystopian environment.
WHAT I LIKED
- The art work was ok – definitely unique in its own right, but what stood out to me the most were the vestments of the Unglican clergy, and how elaborately articulated they were compared to their IRL counterparts. Examples include the cassocks worn by the regular priests to Pope Alexander XVIII’s everyday papal attire.
- I could probably give the in-series action a passing grade as well. To be honest, it can definitely can go over the top once you bear witness to Fr. Abel in his Crusnik form, but at least it was enough to keep me entertained in the series.
- The political intrigue played a huge part in this series, and the anime depicted this fairly well, I’d say. There were several episodes that really hammered home just how delicate the politics were; in particular episode when Fr. Abel is informed of such by the Hungarian minister Gyula Kadar, Archbishop Alfonso D’Este’s attempt to overthrow the Vatican, and especially with the “Night Lords” arc (episode 16-19).
WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE
- The biggest problem I have with this series is its depiction of the Church and trying to pass it off as Catholic. (It’s not, it’s neither holy, Catholic or apostolic, but completely Unglican in its theology) For example, I have an extremely hard time trying to delude myself that the Church in this series would go as far as bestowing the Sacrament of Holy Orders on females, as evidenced with the existence of two female clerics (“Cardinal” Catherine Sforza and “Bishop” Laura Vitez, Esther’s former religious superior). I know I’m being picky with this point, but it’s because I prefer to believe in an indefectible Church.
- One thing is the lack of resolution between all the subplots in the series. Some things that were left in the dust that I felt could have been expanded further include the fate of the human / vampire states, Fr. Abel’s conflict with his brother Cain (get it?), and go a bit more with Ion and Esther’s ties to their respective resistance groups. I’ve been told that one needs to read the manga to understand further, but anytime you refer to supplementary materials to understand the series, that’s pretty bad.
The thing with the characters of Trinity Blood is that there were a good bunch of them that we were introduced to, but despite this, they just didn’t have anything that was noteworthy that I could talk about for them. Some characters’ personalities stand out, such as Fr. Abel’s comic personality, Esther’s shy but caring disposition, and perhaps the Pope’s self-esteem issues; but most of the other characters didn’t provide any value to the story; either they were stunted so inconsequentially that their presence didn’t impact the story (Archbishop Alfonso, main villain Dietrich) or their development was squandered all over the place, that it was hard to keep track of (Fr. Abel).
The only characters in this series who I guess got some kind of development / personality uptick was Esther, who I guess goes from an insecure, soft-spoken character to someone who later in the series becomes quick-thinking, appreciative of others around her, and becomes independent enough to make her own decisions. She goes from someone who’s easily manipulated to someone who’s capable of making their own decisions, and forging her own path regardless of whether or not others want it.
Same could be said for Ion – initially, he’s a cold-hearted, ruthless guy who hates all humans (who he calls “Terrans”) and wants nothing to do with them. He is taken in as part of Fr. Abel’s crew of protagonists, becoming a prominent member of the troupe, and after experiencing treachery at the hands of his former comrades, his worldview becomes expanded as he realizes the extent of the political situation between the two races. Additionally, thanks to people like Esther and his former friend Radu, he also realizes that just because you’re of one race, doesn’t automatically mean you’re good or bad; a view which he extremely clung on to at the start. These events serve to shape his new personality, and by the time we last see him in episode 19, he has become more mature, responsible and more open to others, as evidenced by his growing feelings for Esther. The same can’t be said for any of the other characters, though.
Most of the background music that was in this series was given a haunting, low-fi atmosphere to it. In line with the story’s dark and Gothic elements, most pieces that were played had a melancholic, mysterious-sounding mood. Granted, while they did fit in well with the whole vampire theme the story presents, there weren’t any pieces that were in particular ear-catching or of my interest. Even the opening and ending themes were in particular boring to listen to; I remember skipping the opening of this series to save myself time, and the ending theme seemed kind of out-of-place for this kind of series. Overall, the music was not the bright spot of the series, and at times it played out average at best. I’m confident that I won’t be including any of the OST pieces in my playlist of anime songs any time soon.
Favorite character: Of the various characters in this series, I actually found Esther to be the character I most related with. Her design and personality was cute, but I really liked how she became capable of developing a decent character and relationship with others as time progressed.
Favorite episode: I personally found episodes 7-10 to be the most interesting, as they took place entirely within the vicinity of the Vatican, and provided some inter-religious drama featuring the Pope, his relatives, and some backstory to his rise to power.
Favorite battle: Fr. Abel’s battle with Isaac Kampfer in episode 10, under the Vatican while sublime organ music plays had all the marks of a fitting vampire-on-vampire battle.
Personally, this series fell short of my expectations, and if anything I should have known better had I just read the summary a bit more closely, and realized that it wasn’t for me. What’s even more amazing that it took me two tries to finish this series – two tries over the span of three months – just before I could get through this entire series. The first time around, I stopped after only three episodes because of how mundane the story was; then I was able to finish the story in the second run. With its messy plot, average-at-best characters, and its fantastical depictions of the “Catholic Church” as a secular-only, militaristic institution hell-bent on saving political reputation rather than souls, Trinity Blood failed to evoke any lasting impression on me.